Shoppers share excitement for Lunar New Year celebrations as they stock up at Waterloo, Ont., store

People were busy shopping at Waterloo's T&T Supermarket this week to prepare for Lunar New Year. They shared some of their favourite dishes and how excited they are to celebrate.

'Bright colours, lots of excitement, lots of food,' Lisa Yip says of new year celebrations

A man stands in front of a display of red-and-gold boxes, a "Year of the Rabbit" sign and colourful lanterns.
Charles Zhang, store manager at T&T Supermarket, offers a tour of the store on Thursday. He says the week and weekend of Lunar New Year is their busiest time of year. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

T&T Supermarket in Waterloo, Ont., is bustling with shoppers picking up items under brightly coloured Lunar New Year decorations.

Red lanterns, lucky bamboo and lots of candy are just some of the festive items you might find at the store, which specializes in selling East Asian food.

Sunday will be the last day of the Year of the Tiger and the first day of the Year of the Rabbit.

Charles Zhang, the store manager, said sales are always up leading to the Lunar New Year, with roughly 2,000 to 3,000 shoppers visiting every day.

"Chinese New Year is our No. 1 busiest weekend by far, even compared to Christmas or the Mid-Autumn Festival," he said. "I'd say it's easily double — if not triple the amount of customers on a weekly basis."

He said customers are looking for specific items that are not sold at other grocery stores.

"People from Cambridge or Guelph may have their local store for regular stuff, but when it comes to Chinese New Year, there's certain stuff you can only get from T&T in our kitchen and bakery, like rice cakes."

Colourful dragon decorations
T&T Supermarket in Waterloo is colourfully decorated for Lunar New Year celebrations. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

'Family and food'

It helped put last-minute shoppers in a festive mood.

Denise Korsman was loading up her basket with hot pot essentials.

Portrait of woman in grocery store aisle
Denise Korsman says she was at T&T to gather various items to make dishes to mark Lunar New Year. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

"After all the stuff with COVID, it's nice to have something to celebrate," she said. "I've bought dumplings, steam buns, bok choy and the whole shebang."

Lisa Yip said she's picking up last-minute ingredients to make a traditional rice cake at home.

"It's always so festive around Chinese New Year," she said, admiring the decorations around the store. "Bright colours, lots of excitement, lots of food. That's one of the big things about Chinese New Year. Family and food."

Woman in grocery store aisle holds up coconut milk, rice and bagged bok choy.
Lisa Yip says she makes a rice cake every year for Lunar New Year and needed to get some ingredients to make it for the weekend. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

Jinrong Hung said he is glad New Year's Day is on the weekend this year because he won't have to miss any university classes to celebrate. He was picking up some festive drinks with his mom.

"It's only me and my mom in Canada," he said. "My other family is in China and Singapore, so we have to use the video chat to eat our new year dinner."

A man and woman pose for a photo. The man, on left, gives a thumbs up. The woman on right holds up her index and third finger to give peace sign.
Jinrong Hung, left, and his mom shop at T&T Supermarket in Waterloo ahead of Lunar New Year. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

Kern Pageau said he is looking forward to celebrating with their extended family members.

"My son-in-law is Vietnamese, so they always get together and it's a big festive time for them. He comes over for Christmas at our place and then everybody goes over to his place, his parents' place, for Chinese New Year."

A woman and man, both smiling, pose for a photo. The man is holding a takeout container of food.
Gloria and Kern Pageau say the Lunar New year decorations in the store made them feel 'very joyful.' They're looking forward to celebrating with their son-in-law. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

Red paper with good wishes

It's one of the most important celebrations of the year for many East Asian families, including those with Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean heritage.

Yan Li, an associate professor of East Asian studies at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo, said it is believed that putting up vibrant new years decorations can help attract good luck for the rest of the year.

"You can make paper cuts with animals or sometimes flowers and put them on windows or doors," she said. "Higher up, there are red lanterns outside the door. You can also put writings on pieces of red papers and put them outside on the door frame with good wishes for the future."

rabbit cut out
To celebrate, people may make paper cuts with animals or sometimes flowers and put them on windows or doors, says Yan Li, an associate professor of East Asian studies at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

The Lunar New Year is also time to make and share delicious food.

Li said it is crucial to set up a large banquet for family members, including at least eight to 10 different dishes.

"Some items are necessary like boiled dumplings, chicken and fish," she said. "Chicken in Chinese sounds same like the word 'lucky' or 'fortune'. Fish in Chinese has the same pronunciation as 'surplus'. So they were all good wishes for a family to have a good luck and surplus in money and food and everything."

After filling up on that delicious banquet, the family will stay up all night spending time together.

Several red and gold boxes open on top with wrapped candies inside.
A colourful display of various candies allows people to pick and choose some sweet treats to mark Lunar New Year. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

Common activities traditionally included chatting with each other or playing games. These days, families are likely to watch special New Years Day shows featuring musicians, dancers and celebrity appearances.

The show usually ends right at midnight, officially marking the end of the Year of the Tiger.


Aastha Shetty

CBC journalist

Aastha Shetty can be reached via email or by tweeting her at @aastha_shetty


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